Should You Write for Free?
There’s been a lot of buzz circulating in the freelance writing sphere about one controversial topic: should you write for free? Many folks laud free work when a writer is just starting out, while other seasoned vets shake their heads in frustration and demand that writers never ever devalue their craft by working for free. While both sides pose a value argument, my advice is that if you’re just starting out in the freelance work, yes, absolutely, you should write for free.
When I first started my freelance career, it was merely a side hustle as I worked as an editor for a pretty prominent newspaper. While I was lucky enough to score some paid journalism gigs for small weeklies around my city, it was made clear to me early on that in order to take my biz to the next level, I had to seriously beef up my portfolio.
As with any person starting off in the working world or brand new industry, you’re going to somehow get your foot in the door. While I had plenty of samples of news writing from my college paper and various papers I wrote for, I had nothing to offer in terms of lifestyle, career, marketing, SEO, press releases, or any other writing canon. In order for me to land the top clients, I needed to prove that I had the writing chops to take on higher level (and higher paying) work.
Think about it – when you’re fresh out of college, you’re not going to be offered the corner office, a six digit salary, and six weeks of paid vacation time right off the bat. You’ve got to work some pretty crappy positions – some paying, some not – to establish yourself. Whether that’s as a lowly coffee-running intern or an entry level copywriter, you’ve got to get your feet wet.
The same applies to your freelance biz. The sad fact of the matter is that nobody (or hardly anybody) is going to hire you based off of your personal blog alone. You need to have samples to offer. And if that means taking on some non-paying or low-paying clients for a month or two, so be it.
When I was first starting out, I ran a lifestyle blog catering to millennials for a weekly newspaper where I posted 3+ a week. Did I ever see a dime from that? Naw. But it did lead me to writing some well-paying feature articles for the publication. I also wrote 500-word articles for $5 a pop for a content mill for a while to gain experience in SEO. While it was not my ideal gig, I did learn a hell of a lot.
Sometimes, I still offer my services for free. If I know the publication is reputable and it’ll get me some exposure, I’ll do it.
So, all in all, I do highly recommend that you work for free when you’re first starting out.
Would you or have you ever worked for free? How’d it turn out?